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Avery Bradley, Tyler Zeller making believers of themselves, others 03.17.15 at 11:09 am ET
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With winning comes confidence. With confidence late in the season comes expectation. And these Celtics are talking and acting like a team that expects to make a run to the Eastern Conference playoffs with 16 games left in their season.

Avery Bradley is one of only three players left from the last Celtics team to make the playoffs just two seasons ago. He, Brandon Bass and Shav Randolph were all on the 2013 team that lost in six games to the Knicks.

When the Celtics were 20-33 this season and headed for another seemingly dead end to the season, could he picture his teammates making an improbable run to the postseason?

“For sure, I saw that we were improving every single game and I knew we would have a chance if we set our mind to it and started [believing] in our [potential] and that’€™s what we were doing. We never thought we didn’€™t have a chance to make the playoffs. Now we’€™re right there.”

Indeed, after Monday’s 108-89 blowout of the hapless Sixers, the Celtics are definitely in the mix. While technically ninth and on the outside looking in due to their 18-21 record in the East, they are tied with the Pacers and Heat for seventh in the East with a 30-36 record.

Monday, the Celtics came in focused, even in shootaround, determined not to let a game against the 15-51 Sixers stand in their way of their first five-game win streak under Brad Stevens. They outscored Philly 38-18 in the first quarter and it wasn’t a game after that.

“It’€™s hard, especially when you come in at halftime up by 20 and your coach might say, ‘€˜let’€™s go out there and continue to play hard,’€™ you get a little nervous,” Bradley said. “You start thinking once you get back out there on the floor and that’€™s one thing we didn’€™t do. Even though they were scoring we continued to execute our plays on both ends of the floor and it helped us continue to have a 20 point lead.”

When the Celtics, who shot 67 percent in the first quarter, looked inside, there was Tyler Zeller leading the way. He found his comfort zone and poured in a career-high 26 points.

“I don’€™t know, I mean the shots fell down,” Zeller said. “Jump shot felt really good and then they kept leaving me open so I just kept shooting it. Once again my teammates do a great job of getting me the ball on time and it makes it a lot easier.”

Road games against teams like Oklahoma City and San Antonio can be intimidating for young teams in transition. But that’s not the way these Celtics are looking at Wednesday and Friday. It’s a chance to show how much fun they’re having chasing an improbable playoff spot.

“It’€™s a lot of fun,” Zeller said. “The whole year we’€™ve been changing, I think Danny’€™s done a great job putting together the team that we’€™ve got. We’€™ve been playing with different players every night and finally have a team where we’€™ve settled in, playing with the same players every night and it’€™s fun to go to battle that way. We do a great job of playing hard and playing together.”

Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Tyler Zeller,
5 things we learned as Celtics roll over 76ers 03.16.15 at 9:55 pm ET
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The hottest team in the NBA? Well, that might just be the Boston Celtics.

The C’s destroyed the lowly 76ers 108-89 on Monday night, wining their fifth straight game and moving into a tie with the Pacers and Heat for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. Yes, the Celtics (30-36) would now be in the playoffs if they were to start tomorrow.

Tyler Zeller scored a career-high 26 points on 11-of-15 shooting in an incredibly efficient 28 minutes. Avery Bradley also netted 20 points for the Celtics, who received double-digit scoring from all five starters as well as Jae Crowder and Gigi Datome off the bench. Massachusetts product Nerlens Noel was the leading scorer for Philadelphia with 18 points.

For a full box score, click here.

A FIRST FOR BRAD STEVENS

Stevens now has his first five-game winning streak as a head coach in the NBA — an impressive run, even if the latest victory came against Philly. Maybe even more impressive? The C’s have now won 14 of their last 20 games. No matter how you spin it, this stretch has proved Stevens can flat out coach. He just may sneak a team that has undergone several identity changes this season into the playoffs, so imagine the possibilities when Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge provides Stevens with the roster that many expect in the future.

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Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Tyler Zeller,
Brad Stevens shows his smarts in diagramming game-winning play 03.05.15 at 10:58 am ET
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If there was one person in the building not surprised by the brilliant adjustment made by Celtics coach Brad Stevens on the game-winning inbounds play from Marcus Smart Wednesday night, it was Gordon Hayward.

He was, of course, a star player for Stevens at Butler University when the Bulldogs went to back-to-back national title games, losing to Duke and UConn. Hayward was also the man who scored what appeared to be the game-winning basket with 1.7 seconds left, giving Utah an 84-83 lead.

Then the Celtics called timeout. They wanted Smart to inbound the ball. But the rookie was having all sorts of problems getting the ball in. Another timeout. Then Stevens diagrammed a play to get the look that would free Tyler Zeller at the rim, if Smart could get the ball in.

“They switched the play before when Marcus couldn’€™t get it inbounded with Hayward and (Derrick) Favors,” Stevens said. “So, we wanted to try to get that switch again, so we just ran a little action to get that switch again and then (Rudy) Gobert was on the ball so he wasn’€™t at the rim. So we were hoping to slip and catch it a little bit cleaner and lay it in, but, you know, that was the goal –€“ and it ended up being Ok.”

Was Stevens surprised that Gobert was on the ball?

“That’€™s a hard call, and I think that with Marcus Smart taking it out and Gobert on the ball it’€™s hard to deliver a good pass,” Stevens said.”If Gobert tips it the game’€™s basically over, unless it tips right to us. So it’€™s easy to second-guess that stuff, but I won’€™t because I saw how long Marcus had to throw over just to get the pass to where it was. It’€™s another reason why we had to throw the ball in the air, though.”

“Coach Stevens drew up a great play,” Smart added. “The first play was supposed to go to Jae Crowder, Utah played it very well and he came back with the counterattack. It was tough, they put a tall defender on the ball and I had to pass-fake the ball to get him leaning one way and Tyler did a great job shoving his man off and just put it at the back of the backboard.”

Zeller caught the ball, gave a quick pump fake and delivered the game-winner as time expired.

‘€œIt was a great pass,” Hayward said of the Smart entry pass from midcourt. “That’€™s what Coach Stevens does. He’€™s excellent in those situations of coming up with a play, I know it better than anybody. It’€™s a great play, great design, they knew we were switching. The pass had to be perfect to get over Rudy (Gobert) and Rod (Rodney Hood), and it was. And then (Zeller) made a good finish too. Credit them with their finish, too, but that’€™s not where we lost it, though. We should have been better.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Brad Stevens, Gordon Hayward, Tyler Zeller,
5 things we learned as Celtics top Jazz on Tyler Zeller’s buzzer beater 03.04.15 at 10:12 pm ET
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It wasn’t a fun game to watch most of the way through, but it turned into a thriller late as the Celtics faced the Jazz Wednesday at the TD Garden.

Gordon Hayward hit a jumper over Tyler Zeller with just 1.7 seconds remaining to give Utah an 84-83 edge, but it was Tyler Zeller who would get the last laugh. Brad Stevens drew up a play to perfection and Marcus Smart hit Zeller under the hoop for what turned into the game-winner at the buzzer. The shot was reviewed, but the Garden erupted once at the refs announced the basket was good, and the C’s came away with a 85-84 win.

Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder were the game’s two high scorers with 21 and 18 points respectively — both coming off the Boston bench. Avery Bradley was the Celtics‘ only starter to reach double figures with 13. Trey Burke and Derrick Favors led the way for Utah with 16 points apiece. The Celtics are now 24-35 after the win, while the Jazz drop to 24-36 on the season.

For a full box score, click here.

Here are five things we learned in the win:

UGLY FIRST HALF

Yes, both teams did play in different cities the night before, but a score of 34-33 at halftime is not a common sight in the NBA. Typically a cold start will get better for both teams, but after the Jazz took a 19-18 lead into the second quarter, the teams combined for only 30 more points in the half — leaving the Celtics with a one-point edge at the break. Despite turning the ball over just once, the C’s managed their 34 points on 32.6 percent shooting (including 16.7 percent from downtown). The Jazz weren’t much better, shooting a mere 37.1 percent, but attempted 11 less shots than Boston (46-35).

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Read More: Avery Bradley, Isaiah Thomas, Tyler Zeller,
5 things we learned about Celtics at trade deadline 02.20.15 at 12:20 am ET
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In the words of Ron Burgundy: “Boy, that really escalated quickly.”

Just when we appeared to be headed for a quiet trade deadline, seemingly half the league began swapping players and picks around as if there wouldn’t be another opportunity for years. When the smoke cleared, a record 37 players were moved by the deadline, and that doesn’t even include the future draft picks that changed hands.

So in wake of everything that happened today, here’s five things we learned about the Celtics at the deadline.

THE CELTICS LOVE ISAIAH THOMAS 

Thomas’ name came up in trade talks when Boston was rumored to send Rajon Rondo to the Kings last season, then again when Danny Ainge was the first person to reach out to Thomas as free agency began last summer, and now, obviously, the third time was a charm for Ainge. This is not a coincidence, the Celtics have been after Thomas for a while.

The 5-foot-9 Washington product was the last pick in 2011’s NBA draft but has far exceeded expectations during his time in the league. Last year with the Kings, Thomas produced averages of 20.3 points and 6.3 assists. So far this season Thomas has averaged 15.2 points and 3.7 helpers, but in limited minutes off the bench while helping his Suns team hold down a playoff spot in the West.

If I had to venture a guess, I’d say the Celtics front office see Thomas as its point guard of the future. But if I’m wrong– and this is one of the best parts of Thomas’ contract — his deal always remains a tradeable asset. Due just $27 million over four years, there’s really no risk to brining Thomas on board.

MARCUS SMART NOW IS A SHOOTING GUARD

With Thomas in Boston, Smart now likely becomes the starting shooting guard, otherwise a backup combo guard for the time being. Smart had briefly been in control of the starting point guard role before the All-Star break, and did a good job with it. Smart still may backup Thomas at point guard while seeing a majority of his minutes off the ball, but it would be nice to see Smart get assigned a position and stick to it. With that said, Smart has adjusted very well no matter what role has been asked of him. I expect that trend to continue and Smart to have a strong finish to his rookie campaign — including small ball lineups with Thomas and Avery Bradley. The bottom line is that if he continues improving his shot and his relentless defense, Smart is going to be a very good pro. If he has one area he needs to improve upon, it’s in getting to the rim.

AINGE IS BEGINNING TO CASH IN HIS CHIPS

You might not be able to call the Celtics buyers at the deadline, but just think back on each of Ainge’s trades over the summer and throughout the season. They all accomplished one of two goals — the first being to add future draft picks and the second being to move unwanted long-term contracts for expiring deals.

This trade — although Thomas is a nice long-term asset — accomplished neither. Ainge actually finally shipped out one of his future assets (a 2016 first-round pick from the Cavs) in order to add a piece of the puzzle. The Celtics will gladly use their two first-round picks in June’s upcoming draft, but things are starting to get to the point where Ainge is ready to pull the trigger on moving picks for players when the right deal presents itself as it did with Phoenix.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brandon Bass, Danny Ainge, Isaiah Thomas
5 things we learned: Time for the Celtics to make a change in the middle 12.05.14 at 9:56 pm ET
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Tyler Zeller dominated in the Celtics' lopsided win over the Lakers. (Getty Images)

Tyler Zeller dominated in the Celtics‘ lopsided win over the Lakers. (Getty Images)

The Lakers made their only trip of the season to the TD Garden on Friday night, and the fans turned out to see them. But in a building with a surprising number of Laker fans, the home team delivered a commanding performance against Kobe Bryant‘s squad, as the Celtics won, 113-96.

Tyler Zeller and Jared Sullinger had huge nights for the C’s (more on them later), while all five starters scored in double figures for Boston. Rajon Rondo was back to his old self, but Jeff Green and Avery Bradley were big contributors as well with 19 and 16 points respectively.

Bryant, of course, led the way for the Lakers. He finished with a pedestrian 22 points.

Here’s five things we learned in Boston’s victory:

TYLER ZELLER NEEDS TO REMAIN THE STARTING CENTER

Zeller was phenomenal in this game. In 17 first half minutes, he put together a near double-double with 14 points (on 7-for-8 shooting, no less) and nine boards. Zeller and Rondo have been fantastic together on the floor all season, but even more so on Friday. Five of Zeller’s seven first half field goals were assisted by Rondo. His combination of always being a pick-and-roll threat along with running the floor play perfectly into Rondo’s passing skill set.

“I think, obviously, Tyler played at a really high level,” Brad Stevens said after the win. “I felt Rondo was just so much more aggressive and comfortable being aggressive tonight and that was great. Anytime he’s probing like that, Tyler’s going to roll to the rim and be available. And Tyler’s got that nice little flip shot at five or seven feet where he can shoot it with either hand. He doesn’t have to get it all the way to the rim to finish. So Rondo looks for him and that’s a good thing.”

Zeller wound up with a game-high 24 points and 14 rebounds — probably the best game of his career. His miss in the first half turned out to be his only one, as he went 10-of-11 from the field for the night.

Friday was Zeller’s fourth start this season in place of Kelly Olynyk, and Stevens claimed before the game that it remains a temporary role. If Stevens is watching what everyone else has seen, he should officially hand the starting center job to Zeller.

After the game, Stevens was willing to concede that Zeller will in fact be the starting center when practice begins on Saturday.

RAJON RONDO BROUGHT SOME MUCH NEEDED AGGRESSION

Rondo has scored two points in each of his last three games. He recently said that he hadn’t been himself during those games. Something evidently changed between then and the start of Friday’s game. Rondo got off to a hot start, scoring six first quarter points to go along with five assists. Rondo’s impact was clear: his plus/minus was +14 when he came out of the game for the first time, while the Celtics‘ lead was trimmed to as few as three points before Rondo reentered with his team up seven.

Rondo may have even taken it too far, attempting 17 shots in the game (and making six), but his attacking style represented a noteworthy departure. Even with all the misses, Rondo turned in a pretty effective game, scoring 12 points along with eight rebounds and 16 assists. On the other side, the Lakers only had 14 assists as a team.

Stevens did speak with Rondo about breaking out of his slump prior to Friday’s game, and he felt it may have worked.

“The main one [thought about Rondo] was that I felt like he was waiting for the game to materialize around him more than just attacking the game, and so it was really good. I thought he attacked great tonight,” Stevens said. “And every time he shot it, I was like a fan saying, ‘Go in!'”

JARED SULLINGER WAS A BEAST

Sullinger’s performance was easy to lose track of behind Zeller’s big night, but the front court duo was not one to mess with against the Lakers. Sullinger brought it in the second half, scoring nine points and grabbing five rebounds in the third quarter alone.

He finished the game with an energetic and efficient 17 points on 5-for-9 shooting with 13 rebounds. Sullinger has said that starting alongside Zeller or Olynyk doesn’t matter to him, but things seem to be going pretty well at the moment. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Jared Sullinger, Rajon Rondo, Tyler Zeller,
Tyler Zeller rarely misses a shot these days 11.18.14 at 7:50 pm ET
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Tyler Zeller

Tyler Zeller

Tyler Zeller has always had the trust of coach Brad Stevens, but his minutes have yet to put that trust on display — until Monday night.

Zeller had his coming out party in the Celtics‘ 118-114 home loss to the Suns, playing a total of 27 minutes. Although Boston came up short in the win column, Zeller surely was not at fault, while Stevens was rewarded for trusting his fellow Indiana native.

The UNC product finished Monday’s game with 19 points, seven rebounds and three assists, to go along with a block and a steal. However, it was how Zeller got those numbers that made it so impressive. Besides playing with unmatched hustle — whether is be changing a shot on the defensive end or tipping a rebound to a teammate — Zeller shot an incredibly efficient 8-for-9 from the field.

As crazy as it sounds, that has been an average game in terms of shooting the ball for Zeller this season, just in smaller samples due to playing fewer minutes.

As of Tuesday, Zeller is shooting an eye popping 25-for-29 from the field in nine games this season. That’s good for 86.2 percent — tops among players in the NBA who have attempted more than four shots on the year.

“Some of it’s [knowing what you can and can’t do],” Zeller said following the loss. “Some of it’s my teammates, again, do a great job of getting the ball to me on time where I have time to make plays.”

“Some of it’s just taking easier shots,” he added.

So, will we see any bad shots from the seven-footer this season?

“Give it time, it will happen,” joked Zeller. “But, I mean, you’ve just got to take smart shots and make the plays you can.”

In case you were wondering, Cedric Maxwell shot 60.9 percent from the field in the 1979-80 season, which is the Celtics‘ single-season record for field goal percentage.

Read More: Tyler Zeller,
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